Commentary: It’s a fact that when associates are part of a decision-making process, they feel more invested and empowered.  Case in point: AutoNation’s charitable-giving program, focused on supporting cancer organizations. It’s employee-chosen and driven and it works.

Sadly, too many of us have been impacted by cancer either on the job or in our families. Nearly three years ago, AutoNation, an automotive retailer with 255 locations, 344 franchises and more than 26,000 employees across 17 markets, made a commitment to direct its charitable resources toward the race to beat cancer. The company partnered nationally with Indy 500 Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Racing for Cancer to spread the word about the importance of early detection in prevention and treatment. We then asked employees from coast to coast to select local cancer charities to support. We anticipated an enthusiastic response but had no idea it would reap so many positive outcomes. By putting our charitable giving program in the hands of our employees, we empowered them as brand ambassadors in community relations across all of our markets. 

Also see:Volunteering linked to better mental, physical health.”

Beginning in 2013, our associate-driven charity initiative was launched after a meeting between Mike Jackson, AutoNation chairman, CEO and president, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Indy 500 champion.  This initial partnership grew over time, and now AutoNation has partnered with many cancer charities, making a real difference in the fight against cancer and bringing a new wave of pride and a strong sense of purpose to employees.

AutoNation doesn’t only measure its success by how many cars it sells or services, but by how many lives it touches. With cancer as our charitable focus, we give our employees the opportunity to choose which local cancer-related charities their markets will sponsor and support through awareness-building, employee-volunteer programs and funding. This employee-driven initiative has been tremendously successful for each community cancer-related charity while building morale, loyalty and engagement in our markets from coast to coast.

Also see:Corporate volunteer programs increase millennials’ job satisfaction.”

One of these nonprofits located in Atlanta has captured the hearts of our market team. Our associates selected CURE Childhood Cancer, a nonprofit dedicated to conquering childhood cancer through funding targeted research and through support of patients and their families. Our employees volunteer their time across skillsets and because the name of the charity clearly communicates clearly its objectives we knew an awareness-building campaign could be quickly communicated and understood by our customers, suppliers, and partners.

In Atlanta, our associates participate by helping serve meals to hospitalized children and parents, providing holiday gifts for children with cancer and their siblings whose parents are struggling financially because of the treatment burdens, large-scale 500-associate  participation in CURE’s signature event Lauren’s Run and the CURE Childhood Cancer Annual Picnic, raising money to fund research, providing special services to affected families and even donating a brand new vehicle for the black tie gala live auction.

Also see:International volunteer programs up loyalty, leadership and contacts.”

Since launching this partnership with Ryan Hunter-Reay, we’ve raised millions of dollars through the efforts of our employees. It’s a win-win. AutoNation associates are very proud to be a part of the race to beat cancer and as a result we have more brand ambassadors than we could have ever anticipated. When companies care and commit to support the local community they make a big difference for others as well as for the employees who are also giving back. 

Marc Cannon is chief marketing officer and senior vice president of communications & public policy for AutoNation. With over 30 years of executive-level experience as an automotive industry communications, branding, advertising and public policy professional, he directs the company’s broad range of communications including the direction and growth of the company’s philanthropic initiative. He can be reached at cannonm@autonation.com.

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